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Gaps in medical research ethics

The flaws of the National Institutes of Health's review board model hinder ethics protections. The White House's new panel will provide a chance to rewrite the regulations.

October 08, 2010|By Laura Stark

Replace the thousands of local review boards that labor independently at universities and hospitals here and abroad with a small number of ethics-review networks organized around specific research methods rather than around institutions. The networks would be better equipped to handle multi-site studies that are now commonplace, and would remove the political biases of some outlier institutions.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing ethics review to private companies, which review research for a fee.

Finally, empower research participants by posting the results of ethics reviews online. The current system includes community representatives who presumably speak on behalf of research participants, but that's not good enough.

Ethics review remains essential for medical research, but it needs to overcome the problems of its past.

Laura Stark is the author of the forthcoming "Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research." She is an assistant professor at Wesleyan University and was a fellow at the National Institutes of Health, Office of History, from 2008 to this year.

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